Processing labs and darkrooms have been popping up all over the UK in the last few years as more people are becoming curious to explore analogue photography in a more hands-on way. Some of these labs are even turning up far away from big cities, forming much-needed creative spaces for those communities. One example of this is The Darkroom at Beach Creative, based in Herne Bay, a small coastal town in the UK, which offers workshops and darkroom hire. We talked to Emily Rose Parris who founded this space and asked her about the changing face of film photography.
Hello Emily, please introduce yourself to our community.
Hello! My name is Emily Rose Parris and I'm an artist and arts educator based on the North Kent coast. I run a small community black and white darkroom in Herne Bay, where I tutor all things analogue both on and off site. I tour my workshops around schools and community centres and have a real passion for sharing knowledge.
I have an Etsy and Not on the High Street shop where I sell cyanotype kits. I first designed these at the start of the pandemic as a way to replace my in-person teaching and I'm pleased to say that they now help support my life as a self employed artist. I also create my own photographic work, which I work on slowly and silently in the background of life most of the time. I'm not very good at sharing it, not because its personal but more because life and tutoring gets in the way.
How did you get into shooting with film?
I used to have a little point-and-shoot Kodak camera as a kid. I used to get my younger sister to fall from a standing position onto cushions and I'd try and capture her falling mid air. Although I was mostly just messing around, I think on reflection this really was the start of me wanting to explore photography more in the future. I revisited photography during the last few years of school, I chose as many creative subjects for GCSE as possible and stayed on for sixth form too.
I really struggled with the workload during my AS years and really needed a different type of learning style. After one year I decided to leave sixth form, I was lucky to be able to go to UCA Canterbury, just around the corner from my secondary school which is where I could really explore all things analogue. With a darkroom onsite and lots of experienced tutors, I knew this was the path for me.
What do you enjoy about this type of photography?
I enjoy the slowness of it. I am a kinesthetic learner, something I've only discovered recently. Learning by doing is really the only way I can embed information. I have found using film and light sensitive mediums makes me a more considered photographer and more willing to explore the boundaries.
Tell us about the darkroom. What does it offer and how did you set it up?
I first started analogue photography while studying at UCA Canterbury for a National Diploma in Arts & Design in 2009-2011 – that's where the magic started. I then continued this love for all things analogue by studying at Kingston University, graduating in 2014 with a BA (hons) in Photography. Like many other art & design graduates, I found myself without a local darkroom to continue my practice, so with the help of family, friends and volunteers I built one. The Darkroom at Beach Creative has existed since 2015, and has evolved a lot since its inception. These days, the darkroom offers a wide range of 1:1 and group sessions such as:
pinhole camera photography
using 35 mm / medium format cameras
printing from negatives
Tell us about these photos you shared with us?
The photos I've shared with you are a little snippet into my personal work. I recently took part in an artist residency in Canterbury city centre, where I went to school and college. It was great to revisit and refocus on the place where I grew up. It's literally down the road from where I live now, yet I hadn't perused for years. I decided to make a temporary darkroom at the residency location which enabled me to build a pinhole camera project.
Some of the other work I've shared dates back to the pandemic. The Bird is a small 5x3 inch print I created in the first year of lockdown, when life was a little slower. This print was featured in the 10 year anniversary exhibition at The Turner Contemporary in Margate in 2021.
I'm currently slowly working away on a project titled Wild Swim project. I'm a sea swimmer, swimming at least once a week all year round. I really wanted to tie together my two loves, film photography and wild swimming. I'm keeping the project broad as I tend to shoot best in the moment, rather than staging portraits. Some of the photos I've taken are from afar, others during a swim. It's a deliberately slow project, shooting on a variety of 35 mm cameras, but always on Ilford HP5.
Have you seen this industry change much over the years?
I have seen a significant change in popularity. I think people really want hands on experiences, particularly since the pandemic. I have also noticed a growing community of like minded people coming together through platforms such as Instagram. When I first started building my darkroom, I found there was a lot of gatekeeping. Thankfully that has changed over time and people seem less competitive and more community minded.
Where do you see film photography and darkroom use moving in the future?
I think there will be a resurgence of film photographers. From some of the tutor work I do a local colleges, I can see young people between the ages of 15-20 really picking it up as a hobby and art medium during their studies. I have also noticed a lot more people gaining interest in alternative processes, such as anothtype printing which used plant matter as a photographic medium.
To find out more about The Darkroom at Beach Creative, you can visit their Instagram page.